Tag: Barack Obama (page 2 of 3)

“Oslo Beats Copenhagen”: President Obama Awarded Peace Prize

President Obama couldn’t convince the Inernational Olympic Committee to let Chicago hold the next summer Olympics, but Nobel Committee decided he’s a skilled enough diplomat to receive a Nobel Peace Prize – only months into his Presidency. This is not lost on commentators and twitterers, some of who are referring to this as a “consolation prize” for losing the Olympics bid. ChicagoBlog writes:

“Barack Obama couldn’t convince the IOC to award Chicago the 2016 Olympics but somehow managed to sway the Nobel Committee to declare our freshman president deserving of the most distinguished peace prize in the world. Wow.

This isn’t as contradictory as it looks. It’s partly Obama’s humility – which I suspect his trip to Copenhagen was calculated to demonstrate on a low-stakes issue – that makes him an inspirational leader and diplomat. And it is his behavior as a model for the type of attitudes the Nobel Committee wishes to promote – not his effectiveness at any particular initiative – that was the basis for the Committee’s decision.

“Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

UPDATE: Heather Hamilton provides a healthy response to the cynicism at Connect US Fund Blog.

UPDATE: In the NYTimes today, Ross Douthat asks whether the correct response would have been for Obama to politely decline the prize. I think he has a point.


Obama Addresses Islamic World in Cairo, Egypt

Wordle version of President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, June 4, 2009.


Seizing the Middle Ground?

This is an open thread about President Obama’s remarks about abortion at Notre Dame’s Commencement Speech.

Comment away.


YouTube Politics Part 2

Max Harper, who piloted the concept of the Blueprint for Change videos for President Obama’s 2008 campaign, provided a point-by-point playbook today for how the Obama campaign used Web 2.0 to win the election.

At first, I found myself wondering how he could speak so candidly about it. But then again, Harper and everyone in the room understood one key feature of the political revolution he was describing: that because of the dynamic relationship between information technology and politics, every single thing he told us about campaign strategy and Web 2.0 would be out of date anyway by 2012.


Who will buy the movie rights?

The dramatic conclusion of the Maersk Alabama Pirate encounter is now a wrap, and this screams for a movie. My only question is who will buy the rights to Capt. Phillip’s story? NBC? Lifetime? I happen to think its bigger than a made-for-tv production, worthy of like Michael Bay or John Woo. Staring Bruce Willis as Captain Richard Phillips, Mark Wahlberg as first officer Shane Murphy, Keifer Sutherland as Special Operations commander Jack Bauer, and of course Johnny Depp as a Pirate.

Updated: It looks like SPIKE has made the first move, green-lighting the docu-series “Pirate Hunters: USN.”
H/T to the Roguish Commonwealth crew for this treasure!

One “Meta” note here, though…

The incredible level of detail we’re getting on how the Navy SEALS carried out the rescue isn’t by accident. Its not that reporters are unearthing special sources revealing juicy morsels of information. Rather senior officials want us to know 3 things (as in image building enterprise going on here):

1–This was in fact a dramatic rescue and the technical expertise of the SEALS to make those 3 shots involves quite a lot of skill. To fire from a moving platform (bobbing up and down on the high seas) and hit a target on another platform, also bobbing about, but not in the same way, is certainly not easy.

2–The Navy, and Administration in general, feel vindicated for how they handled things, slowly and deliberately. Buying time through attempts at negotiations did work. They managed to get 1 pirate off the lifeboat and into US control, they managed to get a tow-line attached, and they had the entire plan all ready to go.

3–Obama was a decisive, effective commander in chief. He was briefed, and he issued a standing order to use force (twice) at the discretion of the on-the-scene Captain. He made a key, life and death decision, he trusted his commanders.


Tortured Rhetoric

President Obama said a lot of important things tonight, but he also regurgitated a disturbing Bushism or two.*

One of these is the term “America does not torture.”

Stated in this particular way, an indisputible statement of principle is conflated with and therefore masquerades as an empirical “fact,” one which is blatantly untrue. This trope was one of the Bush Administration’s many brilliant inventions, and was designed as a public relations counter-response to growing acknowledgement that US military and intelligence personnel not only had tortured detainees, but had in fact been ordered to do so.

In the context of some other disturbing continuities between Bush Administration policies and Obama’s policy so far, this worries me. It should also worry Obama’s advisors: these kinds of rhetorical not to mention policy non-changes are precisely the type of behavior that will undermine Obama’s effort to reengage the international community in the wake of Bush-era unilateralism. Why? Because these particular issues are so closely emotionally associated with Bush-era unilateralism. If there is any sense in Obama’s decision to retain a policy of extraordinary rendition (and I can’t see any), there is certainly no sense in the decision to draw attention and umbrage to it by failing to at least change the rhetoric.

One of the most interesting conversations I had at ISA was about the Geneva Conventions. I had suggested in The National Interest last year that the Bush Administration and the human rights community work together toward an Additional Protocol to clarify the law, and my colleague asked whether I thought this advice still applied after the transition.

I would say it is even more relevant now. The Bush White House flaunted multilateral institutions like the torture regime because Bush’s policy was to flout multilateralism. Obama can’t continue that course – simply reinterpreting and then violating the law – while claiming to embrace multilateralism. But what he could do is lead a multilateral effort to clarify the law. An effort framed in good faith by a skillful and (as yet) largely untarnished leader like Obama could unite both the human rights community and those concerned about how to apply the laws in an era of asymmetric warfare. It could resolve some of the interpretive problems as a community. Obama should shift course and lead this movement before the opportunity is squandered as the US once again instead becomes its target.

*I mean, how it within his perogative or power to “not allow people to plot against America”? What does that mean as a basis for one’s foreign policy?


My Two Cents on Obama’s Speech

It was full of gloom and doom, which is not what some of us might have expected from the “hope” President, but just the kind of realism the nation needs to hear. Finally someone who will ask us to step up to bat and make the sacrifices needed to turn the planet around!

(And frankly the enormity of the mess we’re in was hit home to me when my kids and I, desperate to see Obama sworn in during a layover in Charlotte, were told by the manager of the sports bar near our gate that the basketball game was more important than hearing this historic speech. If anyone can change this mentality that afflicts so many Americans, it’s Obama, but there is a long way to go.)

The kids and I spent that hour huddled around my MacBook Air instead, along with a growing crowd of other passengers. My initial reactions:

1) The “war” against “a network” is definitely not over, contra recent suggestions on this blog. Much of Obama’s rhetoric is surprisingly similar to that of the previous Administration. Jon Stewart captured this well last night.

2) Was he sending veiled cues to Israel when he said, the US will be “a friend to all nations”? Are we finally entering an era where the US will not only obey international law but make our alliances and partnerships contingent on similar good citizenship from our allies? And if so, would this be a good thing?

3) Despite being an unprecedented diversity-fest, this was a very monotheistic celebration. Prayers and benedictions were addressed to the Almighty, not to the female Goddess, the Taoist Creative, or the pantheon worshipped in many forms by American Wiccans, Native American communities, or other minority faiths. Obama made multi-faith references to Christians, Muslims, Jews and – importantly – to non-believers. But I was a little bothered by the juxtapositioning of the People of the Book with nonbelievers, dismissing the wide swaths of deeply spiritual people of faith within this country who do not subscribe to a view of God consistent with any of the Abrahamic faiths. Obama did mention Hinduism as well, and it is probably too much to expect him to rattle off an exhaustive list of spiritual and religious diversity within this country. Still, I felt the limits of this framing warranted mention.

4) Most remarkable in my mind was this: Obama made very few specific promises in this speech. The one time I heard him use the word “pledge” it was in reference not to ending torture, solving the global economic crisis, or combatting global warming; it was to reducing global poverty:

“To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.”

To me, this seems like a surprisingly ambitious agenda – if he was going to pledge this, why not make some other pledges that are more within his capacity? Not to belittle the impact that a concerted US effort to combat poverty could have. President Obama could make an enormous difference immediately with such concrete steps as announcing that he will support the commitment of 7% of the US budget to non-mility foreign aid. This would still be a tiny fraction of US spending, but an enormous increase from existing spending on non-military aid. It would embody his messages of service, sacrifice, outreach to other nations. And, in addition to helping make a dent in global poverty, it would reduce one source of tension between the US and other OECD countries who already meet or exceed the 7% goal.


Our President

Watching the Inauguration on television, I’m amazed at the sheer number of people packed in the mile and a half between the Washington Monument and the Capitol building. Last night, watching the cable news, I was amazed at the crowd just hanging out on the mall, wanting to “be there” in the moment of this monumental event. I think its quite clear that the inauguration of Barak Obama as President of the United States is becoming more than just your standard Presidential Inauguration, its becoming one of those moments that we will recall years from now as a time when things changed in this country.

For many, this event is so special because finally the president is “one of us.” Obama is not like his recent predecessors. The US is shifting demographically, and Obama is a product of these new demographics. He’s of mixed race. He’s urban. His parents weren’t Presidents, Senators, or even rich. As Nate Silver pointed out, Obama is the first truly urban president in a century, proud to call a real American city his home. He doesn’t have a ranch or a retreat and doesn’t claim some sort of small town mythology. Indeed, his election disproves the Palin thesis that “real America” is small town America. Once, that may have been the case, but today, and going forward, “real America” is city-orriented, urban and suburban.

Its an amazing transition on so many levels, and its quite a thing to witness.

Of course, I’m watching it on cable news from Denver. Taking advantage of the 4 day weekend and the utter insanity gripping Washington, we left town to visit family. But being here in Colorado (where its supposed to be 70 today as opposed to freezing back home). We wouldn’t be taking the toddler down to the mall, so CNN and MSNBC are pretty much the same regardless of where you are.


Analyzing Obama’s National Security Team: change you can believe in?

Today Obama formally announced the core of his National Security team: Clinton at State, Gen. Jones as SAPNSA, and Gates to remain at DoD. It’s a team of experienced insiders, centrists, pragmatists, and even Republicans. Some have asked the obvious question: Is this Change you can Believe in for national security and foreign policy?

The selection of Jones is particularly interesting. He breaks a recent trend in the National Security Advisor position as a close policy associate of the President. Condi once said that her top job as NSA was to “staff the President” and she is very close to Bush. While Jones does not come from an academic or “policy” background, he is perhaps more experienced in areas relevant to the position.

First, he has significant first hand experienced in the integration of diplomacy as well as political and military security from his time as head of NATO. SACEUR is a unique posting within the US military. It’s a ‘dual-hatted’ job, as both powerful regional combatant commander and head of the NATO alliance. The NATO role gives the SACEUR direct access to allied heads of state and a large diplomatic role in intra-NATO politics. The tough part of the job is balancing responsibility to the USA and the US chain of command as head of EUCOM and responsibility to the alliance as SACEUR. Wesley Clark talked about the tensions in this arrangement in his Waging Modern War book. It’s a job with no parallel. That Jones could successfully negotiate it bodes well for his chances to successfully negotiate the White House and National Security Council.

Second, he has experience managing a large and complex organization and coordinating intra-bureaucratic activities. This perhaps suggests a shift in the role of the NSA and NSC. Originally, the NSA and NSC were designed as a coordination mechanism, to hash out differences within the bureaucracy in order to present a clear decision to the President and then ensure that the relevant agencies implemented the Presidents decisions in a coordinated and coherent manner. Over the years, the NSC has become the head policy shop and the NSA a key policy advisor—staffing the president rather than keeping State and Defense on the same page. The selection of Jones gives Obama an NSA who has the heft, skill, and experience to coordinate the massive cogs of the national security bureaucracy to implement Obama’s agenda. This is critical—too many seem to be focusing on the wrong indicator of change, be it a Cabinet secretary or potential policy prioritization. Any change you can believe in will require years to complete the slow boring of hard boards. Policies need to be implemented and institutionalized to provide lasting change, and Jones has the resume to accomplish this key task.

With respect to Clinton at State, this remains somewhat a mystery to me—not that Obama would select her, but that she would take the job. For him, it takes the person who is potentially his biggest political rival off the political stage and puts her on the team where he’s in charge and she toes the line. She will win some battles, but she will lose some battle, and like all Secretaries of State, she will advance the President’s agenda in diplomacy. For her, it takes her out of the Senate where she has an independent platform to maintain a national political profile and pursue an agenda of her own choosing.

It is, however, reflective of an emerging trend in Obama’s administration—selecting leaders with extensive Hill experience. Emmanuel as COS, Daschle at HHS and Health Czar, Clinton at State—these are three major players in Congress now joining the Administration. It suggests that Obama will place a key priority on relations with Congress, and he has people who know how to get a legislative agenda enacted. Maybe Clinton, using her Senatorial experience, will be able to win more funding for State and expanded foreign aid. That would be a welcome change.

At Defense, instead of keeping Bush’s appointee, what if Obama had nominated a SecDef who had said:

I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use “soft” power and for better integrating it with “hard” power.

Now, that could have come from any Nye-reading foreign policy pragmatist, but it is a change from the Bush Administration’s policy of spreading democracy by invasion and fighting terrorism with military force. And yet in Gates, Obama has found just such a person. About a year ago, Gates gave an under-appreciated speech where he set out an agenda for the future of DoD in a larger national security bureaucracy that sounded like it could be very much at home in an Obama administration. To quote Gates at length:

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense – not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers – less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year – valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

Overall, our current military spending amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, below the historic norm and well below previous wartime periods. Nonetheless, we use this benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense. We lack a similar benchmark for other departments and institutions.

What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.

Now, I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of “man bites dog” – or for some back in the Pentagon, “blasphemy.” It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year.

Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department “in a heartbeat,” assuming it was spent in the right place.

After all, civilian participation is both necessary to making military operations successful and to relieving stress on the men and women of our armed services who have endured so much these last few years, and done so with such unflagging bravery and devotion. Indeed, having robust civilian capabilities available could make it less likely that military force will have to be used in the first place, as local problems might be dealt with before they become crises.

Appointing a person with this agenda to head DoD fits in with Obama’s overall approach to international affairs, and this speech may be a major impetus behind keeping Gates.

At Homeland Security, Napolitano is perhaps the biggest and under-appreciated change, as she is the only true “outsider” (non-Washington) appointee. She represents a vision for DHS that is less counter-terrorism and more immigration and disaster response, both areas in which she, as a Governor (and former AG) of a border state, has existing expertise

At Justice, Holder seems like a very good pick, especially given the monumental job of rebuilding the disaster that is the Bush DOJ. My guess is that while he will play an important role in national security affairs (ie the legal issues surrounding the closing of Gitmo), his plate will be full with more pressing issues in the domestic legal arena.

Not mentioned and still to be determined: what Obama will do with the Intelligence portfolio in selecting his DNI and CIA head. He could treat the positions as ‘non-partisan’ and keep McCarthy and Hayden for a while (both served as head of the National Security Agency under the Clinton Administration and as career military men are more career officials than strictly Bush people) or he could bring in his own person to institute key changes and make statements on items like, say, torture policy.

Ultimately, though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Obama’s promise to bring change will be judged by what he does as President: the policies he advances, the priorities he sets, the decisions he makes, the resolve he displays when under pressure, the course he sets for the United States in world affairs. While naming a couple of cabinet secretaries is certainly part of that, its only one small part. Regardless of what one may think of Clinton or Gates, they serve at the pleasure of the President and, in the end, are only as good or as bad as he allows them to be.


Obama’s exit strategy?

Today, Jesse Singal has an excellent post challenging the role of conventional wisdom in making national security policy. All-too-often, he suggests, the terms of political debate and the potential policy options are locked in by a national security elite that infrequently finds its ideas contested, however dubious they might be.

For example, what are we to make of the forthcoming increased attention devoted to Afghanistan and Pakistan — even though many security analysts don’t see much of a threat from the Taliban and al Qaeda forces located there? Singal references a provocative article by Juan Cole in today’s Salon, which strongly suggests that Barack Obama’s new administration will be taking numerous risks by refocusing the global war on terror on Osama bin Laden and the remants of al Qaeda.

Personally, I am hopeful that Obama’s team sees a GWOT exit strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

First, don’t forget the big upside of refocusing the GWOT. By emphasizing the relative importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama can more readily extricate the US from Iraq with NIE-backed cover. Hawks fear an al Qaeda “safe haven” in Iraq’s future should the US withdraw, but the 2007 NIE already said al Qaeda has a safe haven in Pakistan. It makes sense to devote resources to the “real” threat, not some imagined future worst-case scenario.

Second, Afghanistan and Pakistan provide potential pathways by which the US could declare final victory in the GWOT and end it. The easiest means would be by capturing or killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, or by proving that he’s already dead.

A more subtle means would be via an effective “surge” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Frankly, this may well require some equivalent of the Anbar Awakening within the key target areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US needs to convince locals that “foreign fighters” are the invaders that must be resisted. The US could provide cash and maybe guns (like it did versus the Soviets) and minimize its own footprint. The US must not be seen as the foreign invaders (as it is now).

With the Musharraf regime gone, the US can also win allies within Pakistan by treating the new government with a lot more respect. For example, the ongoing missile strikes in the border area are really unpopular with Pakistan’s population, so it would help to end these — and achieve the military objectives through other means. Expediency will likely have to give way to methods based on a less intrusive model (grounded in the rule of law, not just military might).

I think it’s also possible that some sort of negotiated grand compromise could be achieved. The US would agree to exit contested areas of Afghanistan; the Taliban and its local allies would agree to stop committing acts of violence; Pakistan would agree to enforce the law within the confines of the law; and everyone would agree that al Qaeda is illegitimate.

None of these policies are risk-free. Pakistan, I have recently been reminded, faces massive corruption problems. How can the US count on any deal with such a state?

Still, I’d argue that’s a better place to be than engaged in an apparently unending and dangerous “global war on terror” that promotes global lawlessness and creates new terrorists.


Are we doomed?

I discuss, at Culture11, Obama’s foreign-policy challenges.


The Undiscovered Country

Toward the end of the Cold War, Georgi Arbatov, the top America analyst in the Soviet Union, told his American interlocutors that the USSR was doing a terrible thing to the US, it was depriving it of its enemy. In a letter to the NY Times in 1987, he wrote:

And here we have a ”secret weapon” that will work almost regardless of the American response – we would deprive America of The Enemy. And how would you justify without it the military expenditures that bleed the American economy white, a policy that draws America into dangerous adventures overseas and drives wedges between the United States and its allies, not to mention the loss of American influence on neutral countries? Wouldn’t such a policy in the absence of The Enemy put America in the position of an outcast in the international community?

Fast forward 20+ years. In the campaign, President-Elect Obama made an explicit commitment to unconditional diplomacy with Iran. It seems as if the prospect of this Undiscovered Country has rattled the Iranians much, much more than any of the Bush Administration’s hard-line policies ever did.

From the front page of today’s Washington Post:

For Iran’s leaders, the only state of affairs worse than poor relations with the United States may be improved relations. The Shiite Muslim clerics who rule the country came to power after ousting Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a U.S.-backed autocrat, in their 1979 Islamic revolution. Opposition to the United States, long vilified as the “great Satan” here in Friday sermons, remains one of the main pillars of Iranian politics.

Having an easy enemy to demagogue, having an external threat around which to rally the country, having a “Great Satan” on which you can blame your failures, is a fantastic way to distract the public from the failures of the regime, and a great way to hold onto power. So, when a new US president comes on the scene threatening to take away your enemy, it is a dangerous thing.

For Iran, Spencer Ackerman observes:

It is more dangerous. All of a sudden, you’re deprived of a method of demagoguery that’s aided your regime for a generation. And if you refuse to negotiate, you’ve just undermined everything you told the international community you wanted, and now appear unreasonable, erratic, and unattractive to foreign capitols. Amazing how the prospects for peace are more destabilizing to the Iranian establishment than any inevitably-counterproductive-and-destructive bombing campaign or war of internal subterfuge.

Its a terrible thing, to take away one’s enemy.

H/T: Steve Benen


Political Economy


I never thought that such a day would come, part II

If current leads hold, I will have correctly predicted a 364-179 electoral college outcome, with Obama winning either IN or MO, but not both.


Donald Douglas goes completely insane

Exhibit A: Donald’s post-election screed, in which he interprets the price mechanism effects of a cap-and-trade system (also advocated by Donald’s hero, John McCain) as a threat to tear down ideologically nonconformist energy companies, continues to believe that think tanks such as the Center for American Progress are radical leftist organizations, and may or may not threaten violence against our own government in the context of accusing Obama of being a Manchurian candidate.

I’m not entirely sure about the threat of violence, as Donald’s prose becomes rabidly convoluted at the point that he mentions the 2004 bombings that helped topple Spain’s center-right government. So judge for yourself:

Oh sure, Obama will govern from the center: He’ll have to, lest he risk a violent conservative reaction. But the tide has turned for this moment, and traditionalists just better hold on tight. This next four years will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Lyndon Johnson did not have the nihilist netroots blogosphere to harass his administration into conformity; and Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats weren’t delivered to the progressive hordes who seek to break bread with our mortal enemies. No, things are different today. Meet the new boss.

Now, let me disabuse my relentless left-wing critics: Barack Obama is not a communist in the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist mold, as seen in the widget above-right.

He is, however – whether folks want to acknowledge it or not – deeply in solidarity with many of the forces arrayed against the U.S. This I believe of Barack Obama: Not imminent physical destruction of our nation (though not completely discounted), but destruction nonetheless. Destruction of the moral light that never lets the malignant growth of evil roll across the land. No, America’s enemies will get a respite, where they can regroup and reconsider what they want from America. There will be a reckoning, at some point, of course. Because even those who have been hoodwinked by the hope-i-ness of change will not long tolerate the yoke of Third World despotism and terror over this proud nation. A despotism seeking to behead the American individual, and the culture that bore him – all of this, dearest Americans, faster than you can say Madrid 2004.

In private exchanges with Donald over the years, he’s repeatedly discussed his use of “red meat” rhetoric to drive up his readership and implied that one should not take that rhetoric too seriously. He’s even, to his credit, blogged about this–which also means I’m not inappropriately revealing the content of private correspondence.

But that creates two alternatives: either Donald believes what he writes in post like these, or he’s just cynically trying to get traffic, inbound links, and attention by pandering to the basest urges of the right-leaning blogsphere. I’m not sure which is more troubling. The latter displays utter contempt for his non-heckling readership, but at least holds out the possibility that he’s not suffering from paranoid delusions.

At some level, this is all rather amusing. Donald’s been on a self-styled crusade to reveal the pathological hate spewed by the left blogsphere, one in which he repeated proclaims that nothing on the right compares. But it ceases to be amusing in the context of reasonable fears that cries of “socialist” and “terrorist” may incline some to action. John McCain’s moving speech represented an attempt to reverse the dangerous slide of Republican partisans towards a dark abyss of hatred and fear. But Donald, after spewing out the exact kind of propaganda that McCain at last unequivocally decried, has the gall to invoke McCain’s words to justify his rant.

In any case, as John McCain would say: Stand with me, my friends! Fight with me! Fight for what’s right for our country!

Dave Noon’s reaction to Donald’s meltdown–admittedly long signaled in his increasingly vitriolic denunciation of the left as a fifth column intent on destroying this country–is one of amusement. But I find it both sad and frightening.

Donald is a trained political scientist and a college teacher (by all accounts, an excellent one). He knows, or at least should know, that a 4% variation in the marginal tax rate for the highest income bracket is not the difference between communism democratic socialism and capitalism (John McCain does, as he said on video before the last days of the 2008 campaign), that both McCain’s and Obama’s policies “redistribute wealth,” and… well, I could go on and on. If he does know, he has an obligation to pass this knowledge along to his credulous readers. If he does not, then there’s little left to say.


Interpreting Obama’s victory

I don’t ordinarily do this, but I thought Duck readers might be interested in seeing my post on “President-Elect Obama” over at my personal blog.

It is impossible to be happy on the day of my father’s funeral, but the American electorate is doing its best to win me over for the rest of the decade.


President Barack Obama

44th President of the United States


Barack Hussein Obama and the promise of America

Readers of the Duck were privy to only part of a larger Duck-bloggers and Duck-regulars discussion concerning video footage of a McCain rally at Lehigh University.

The discussion included an email missive from Andreas Behnke that I found quite touching. I asked Andreas for permission to post his comments, and he agreed.

As we now approach the final hours of the 2008 Presidential campaign–a contest Obama is far more likely than not to win–I think it an appropriate time to share Andreas’s thoughts:

Wow, that [the video] was fun…

Each and every society has a certain percentage of flotsam and pond scum floating around. That, unfortunately, seems to be inevitable. Their presence should therefore not make anybody embarrassed to be an American, German, Brit, Swede, you name it.
The problem is that the McCain/Palin campaign whipped up this frenzy and gave these cretins a voice and the delusion of relevance. And no, McCain/Palin never said anything “racist” – but successfully allowed these dodos to fill in the gap created by “Who is Obama really?” That is the sickening bit of it all.

As for me, apparently a “European socialist” (European yes, but socialist… nah!), I watch the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live… you name it… and envy this country’s ability to deconstruct its own myths and ‘martyrs’ so thoroughly. I don’t think I’ll ever be an American, but it ain’t half bad here. And the next President is going to be one Barack Hussein Obama. It’ll be a while until the British Prime Minister’s name will be Ali Hussein, or the German’s Chancellor’s Mehmed Ozgud.

So cheer up, guys.


Best. Endorsement. Ever.

This piece — written by a former student of mine — may be the funniest, raunchiest, and possibly most insightful endorsement of Obama I’ve read this campaign season:

McCainaic No More.

Oh, and also: what Dan said, except that I’m not writing a piece for for Culture11.


When Mavericks Go Rogue

This, SNL’s cold-open with John McCain from this past Saturday, was quite funny. As I mentioned earlier, SNL has done a really good job pointing out the fundamental flaw in the McCain campaign

Its not just that McCain is so tied to Bush, or that he’s a true Maverick–a Republican without money–but that he’s allowed himself to become such an object of satire, so open to ridicule. All of the punch-lines in that sketch are points that McCain has emphasized on his campaign. Indeed, at one point or another, things he’s put as the centerpiece of his message, substituting for substance. And, in every case, the more we learn about each of McCain’s gimmicks–from Sarah Palin to Joe the Plumber–the less appealing they become. When sold on QVC, they seem vacuous and empty and invite the comedy that SNL has been able to produce. At this point, McCain seems to be playing a caricature of himself, and all it took was him on SNL to break the way between farce and reality, merging the two in something looks like a Frank Rich column.

Obama, by contrast, is much more difficult to mock in satire–in part because he’s solid, solid as Barack. In displaying a calm, cool, and collected demeanor, he has seemed less energetic at times, but has also not provided the openings for satire, the point where a small exaggeration, a small quirk, a known penchant, can be turned into a devastating critique. I’m sure, in time, someone will figure out how to do Obama in comedy, but it is telling that in the nearly 2 years of this campaign so far, no one has produced a cutting, insightful, and funny send-up of Obama.

One only hopes that a pending Obama Administration would be as productive as a Gore administration might have been…

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